The Bomb Squad At the movies, this band of Johns Hopkins doctors loves loud noise, macho heroes, lots of blood and big, manly explosions. Mercifully, they don't take their wives.

July 28, 1998|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN STAFF

They heal the sick. They care and share, they nurture and touch lives. They are male pediatricians with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and for a bunch of guys they know a heck of a lot about colic and breast feeding.

But once every couple of months these sensitive docs gather for a night of gratuitous thrills, vicarious violence and macho posturing. They are the core of a group called the Men's Film Circle, and they have a taste for cinematic red meat.

Dr. John Andrews, a 36-year-old assistant professor of pediatrics at Hopkins from Kalamazoo, Mich., is the founder, charter member and alpha male of the group, also called the MFC. He has two ironclad rules for choosing MFC films.

First, something must explode.

Second, it must be a film that MFC members would not otherwise see with their wives.

So about three or four times each year, he leads an expedition to a local theater to see the biggest, loudest and baddest of the exploitive blockbusters.

"This is kind of our alter-ego, or our release, our chance to serve the part within us that isn't fed by our careers," said Andrews. "It is our night off from having a conscience."

Generally, Andrews said, he spots a likely MFC movie by carefully reading the reviews. "They'll call it 'testosterone-laden,' 'adolescent,' or 'mindless.' Those kinds of adjectives are generally the hallmarks of a good MFC movie. 'Bloated' is another one."

"Armageddon," the Bruce Willis film about an asteroid headed for Earth, was dismissed by The Sun's Ann Hornaday as "massively insipid." Long stretches, she wrote, "bear an uncanny resemblance to Budweiser, Nike, Coca-Cola and Reebok commercials."

That got Andrews' attention.

L "We thought that was a pretty ringing endorsement," he said.

So earlier thih Andrews sent forth the call, via e-mail, to the more than 100 guys in the MFC.

They range in age from their 20s to their 60s, though most are 30-something. Besides pediatricians, MFCers include physicians in other specialties, a lawyer, an architect, an engineer, an accountant, psychologists, a fiction writer and a newspaper reporter. (This one, though I joined only recently.)

Quoting from the Book of Revelations, Andrews called his fellow cineastes together for the end of the world:

"And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. (WE WILL GATHER INTO A PLACE CALLED WHITE MARSH.)"

Andrews founded the MFC four years ago, after listening to a couple of female colleagues talk about their women's book club. (Women slightly outnumber men among the pediatric faculty at Hopkins. Two-thirds of the pediatricians-in-training are women.)

Shouldn't the guys, Andrews wondered, find something they had in common, too?

"That," Andrews said, "was the ferment in which the Men's Film Circle was born."

As a joke, Andrews handed out pink, hand-written invitations at department meetings. He and a few stalwart Y-chromosomed pediatricians showed up for the first few films. Their numbers rapidly grew.

They have watched "Time Cop," "Broken Arrow," "Executive Decision," "The Rock" and "Diehard With a Vengeance." They gathered for "Face/Off," "Last Man Standing" and "Godzilla." The group's high-water mark came last year, when 50 guys showed up for an evening in one of the Senator Theater's sound-proof rooms, built for families with crying babies. They watched "Con Air," ate 22 pizzas and guzzled six cases of beer.

"It had just nonstop action," Andrews recalled fondly. "It had a sense of humor and it was entirely pointless."

Not that kind of group

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of the MFC. A few months ago, someone in the group posted an e-mail that ridiculed women drivers. It drew charges of sexism from some pediatricians-in-training.

Andrews publicly appealed for his fellow Circlers not to get carried away.

"We're not using our Men's Film Circle to be a he-man, women-hater's club," said Andrews, who is married with three children. "It's more about going out to stupid movies and then talking about it over a beer on a more or less regular basis."

Once, a theater owner discreetly asked if the MFC was a gay organization.

"You check your sexual preference at the door," Andrews said. "We don't discriminate. But I think painting us as a gay group is a little bit off."

Andrews' wife, Beth Andrews, calls the MFC "a marriage-saver."

"It spares me the agony of sitting through a lot of Bruce Willis films," she says.

Ken Cohen, a 37-year-old Hopkins pediatric oncologist and charter MFC member, is a lean, intense man who talks very fast. He specializes in brain tumors.

"Part of the job, for me, is that you've got to get away a little bit," he said. "I make a concerted effort to separate work from not work." The MFC, he said, "is a little bit of a breather for me."

And so it came to pass that on a recent Tuesday night about 20 members of the MFC gathered in the main lobby of the Loew's White Marsh Theaters for the 8 p.m. showing of "Armageddon."

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